A dark, short-lived fury

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 7:30pm

On Saturday, we were not hit by the storm that dropped hail and pounding rain on the mainland. It was one of those times we were able to watch it, creeping across the northern sky in layers of dark clouds from which curtains of water hung, giving them a strange look of being land — or ocean — anchored.

Nothing fell in town, there were not even the sparse dark splotches on the sidewalk that are sometimes the only indication of a passing shower, droplets released by the clouds drifting off into the air, showing on the radar, but never making their way to earth. I heard later of reports of sprinkles here and there, down the Neck, over on the West Side, but none of the drama of the mainland, no realization of the portent of the deeply over-pale blue heavens.

Still, we felt the threat in the shifting air and saw it in the dark clouds. In the midst of what could happen, in a day turned sunless, Rebecca shone. The base of the statue that looks out to the mouth of the harbor had been newly cleaned that morning by a pair of local Gardeners, the group that moves through town doing what they love and leaving nothing but improvement in their wake. They weed and replant neglected flower beds, welcome donations of planters to grace local spaces, and this weekend, running up to the Fourth of July, performed this overdue cleaning.

The statue and base are of the same materials but Rebecca is high enough above the road and closer to the clouds that she stays relatively clean, especially in a rainy spring such as we have had this year. The base, though, collects road grime, the dust of the street, and the suspended pollution in the air we see only after it has affixed itself layer upon layer, especially to a fine white surface.

It was a fountain, once, serving a more pedestrian population, as well as horses and dogs, although I always wondered if those lowest basins, on all four corners, were created for visual balance and filled as an afterthought. Today, though, there is no source on site and water must be carried, for the flowers or, on Saturday, for cleaning.

It was not the first time I had seen people tending Rebecca, although between these Gardeners being surprisingly adept at disappearing in plain sight, and our seasonal focus on traffic, I think sometimes their work has to it the feel of elves toiling through the night.

They had finished and gone off to another project or well-deserved rest long before the layers of afternoon clouds rolled in from the west, leaving Rebecca bright and clean, ready to weather any storm.

There is something to living on an island, and being in a place where the sky is open, the horizon wide, on an afternoon — and it does seem an afternoon phenomenon — when we can see the weather coming and going, when we can see the same rain in the sky and on the radar, and follow it outside our windows and doors as well as device screens, skittering past.

We have all manner of localized directions on Block Island, our “ups” and “downs” don't fit the norm; I realized the other afternoon I think of the ocean to the east, the one from which the sun rises, as our front, the west and the sunset our back.

We may look to the east for the future each morning but when weather is moving over it often flies from the west, and while the sky beyond Rebecca was dark and foreboding I could look west and know those clouds were in retreat, heading for other islands.

The sun returned but it is raining again before mid-week. There is a bit of a breeze from the south-southeast, but not enough to send sheets of water driven by a storm wind pounding against the windows. It spatters from the east, rains from the south, but I find Autumn just inside the open west facing door of the front entry, lying on the cement slab floor.

She gets up and goes outside, onto the walk, when I speak to her, then turns when she feels the raindrops on her nose and comes back into the entry, the hall, then house, giving me her best crestfallen look when she realizes I have gone in the other direction and closed, for now, the outer door.

There is thunder rumbling and we appear to be in a patch of screaming yellow in the midst of a sea of green on the radar. The system looks huge but a few clicks on the zoom-out “minus” shows Long Island already in the clear almost to its easternmost end. Click, click, click, and there is no second mass lurking on the other side of New York City, waiting to bluster its way toward us.

The backside, though, the apparent ending of the storm, is a wide band of that yellow, dotted with the more ominous red.


Then it came, and the benign summer storm showed a darker, if short-lived, fury. Rain beat the windows in all the ways it did not earlier, and Autumn gave up her fussing over the closed door.

It calmed soon enough, but stayed gray until the dark finally settled. I wondered, again, how many more times the tall grasses, so heavy with seed, will be able to rebound from being bent over by the heavy rain. The lot immediately behind my house looks, after the storm, as though every deer on the island came and lay upon it, leaving the whole of it flattened. In the front field, the purple haze that was waving only yesterday had been beaten down once more.

At least, I tell myself, none of it was cut, waiting to be raked and baled for hay.